Abuja — Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara wednesday lamented that extreme poverty has taken a toll on Nigerians and further threatened the country's democracy.
He said there is urgent need for governments at all levels to put the citizens on the path of prosperity in order to preserve the present democracy.
Speaking when he received a delegation from the Conference of Speakers of Nigerian State Legislatures, led by Hon. Ismaila Abdulmumin Kamba, in his office.
He said state Houses of Assembly would have to work hard to improve their monitoring of state funds to ensure that they are properly utilised for the betterment of their people, as this will help lift the vast population of the people from poverty.
The speaker said: "We know that if something has to be done at the level of government that will translate into a better life of our people, it must begin from the local government level, at the state level, and then before we even talk about the federal level."
The speaker, however, advised that while they should be fearless in carrying out their responsibilities, they should oversight their state executives without being combative.
He said: "In democracy, we worship no one, we should fear only God but we respect men. When you have a parliament that only responds to the demands of the executive, there is no way we can make progress. We have to carry out our responsibilities without having any fear at all.
"The promise of democracy is basically life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It therefore means that if a citizen is poor, he is excluded from the promise of democracy. He may have a life but as a matter of fact, his kind of life is even worse than death. So poverty tends to becloud someone's sense of reasoning and imagination."
"That is why even at the level of the United Nations, a day has been set aside to talk about the elimination of extreme poverty which excludes citizens of democracy from the promise of democracy and that promise is the pursuit of happiness. If you are poor, you may not have a life and even if you have a life, it may not be desirable. A poor man is not free, you know that very well except you have not tasted poverty. So completely, you are eliminated from the promise of democracy."
Dogara urged state MPs to utilise the opportunity in the proposed amendments to approve financial autonomy for state legislatures and local governments councils in order to free themselves from the reins of state executives and strengthen their roles of oversight.
He also explained the delay in the transmission of the Constitution Amendment Bills recently passed by both chambers of the National Assembly to state MPs, saying it is as a result of ongoing consultations between the two Houses to harmonised all areas of differences in order to produce a uniform document.
He further condemned the use of the term "Abuja politicians" to describe federal legislators, noting that most of their work at the federal level is primarily for the development of the grassroots where most of their voters reside.
He said: "At the federal level, whatever we do kind of translate into an impact at the local level where a majority of our people live. As a matter of fact, I find it very funny, if not offensive, that some people refer to some of us as Abuja politicians as if we were voted for here in Abuja. Not minding that our people are there, our brother here who is from Bauchi State knows the kind of struggle we go through during elections. So, as far as I am concerned, it beats my imagination when someone refers to a legislator as an Abuja politician."
Earlier, The Chairman of the Conference of Speakers of Nigerian State Legislatures., Hon Ismaila Abdulmumin Kamba, said they were waiting anxiously for the constitution amendment bills to be transmitted to them for consideration and passage.
He said: "We at the Conference of Speakers are ready to do justice to these issues. We have already concluded that whatever you will transmit to us, we will carry our strata and groups along and agree that whatever the majority may agree on will be carried."
Also, yesterday, the House Committee on Public Accounts ordered the Bank of Agriculture (BoA) to within 90 days refund the sum of N3.5 million paid to one Mr. MK Nkwa as "exit package" following his role as interim chairman of the bank's Shareholders Committee in 2014.
The ruling of the committee followed the consideration of a query by the Office of the Auditor General for the Federation (AuGF), in which it urged the House to prevail on the bank's management to refund the said sum considered to have been paid illegally.
The query which formed part B of the entire document stated that MK Nkwa was at the time an employee of the Federal Ministry of Finance.
Managing Director, BoA, Prof. Danbala Danju in his response said the bank's previous management sought and obtained the approval of the Minister of Agriculture at that time to enable it pay the exit package to Nkwa. He said the committee was properly constituted and the payment of exit package was in order.
But a member of the committee, Hon.Sunday Adepoju (APC, Oyo), questioned the rationale for paying such an amount to the interim chairman when a substantive chairman was to be appointed to last longer than the interim, who enjoyed allowances for his services.
The MD said the minister on his power as acting chairman of the board of the bank approved the request by the bank to pay the exit package.
The Chairman, House Committee on Public Accounts, Hon. Kingsley Chinda (PDP, Rivers) demanded for documents backing the claims by the MD, saying that the oral evidence so given cannot be admitted as proof of compliance.
He said: "There was no board, the minister was supposed to act, he now delegated to the chairman, shareholders committee, and our concern now is whether the minister can actually delegate such powers, since he was also wielding a power delegated to him as acting board chairman."
The MD again responded saying, "we relied on the powers of the chairman, the minister of Agric at that time".
Adepoju, again drew an analogy using the Head of Service, asking whether "if the HoS retires and a PermSec is asked to act in his/her stead pending the appointment of a new one, would the PermSec so asked to act be paid the same entitlement as the HoS?
The MD said there's what is called "ratification of policies", stressing that the board applied for it and the Incomes Salaries and Wages Commission ratified it, enabling the bank to pay the money.
The committee again noted that the approval submitted by the MD is for the reconstitution of the shareholders committee and not the payment of any exit package as claimed.
The committee therefore resolved that the MD should to recover the sum of N3.5 from Nkwa who incidentally is still in service and return same to government coffers within 90 days.